Uyghurs in Turkey are concerned about an extradition treaty between China and Turkey. That treaty was ratified by the Chinese People‘s Congress at the end of December. China wants Turkey to sign it, too, and the Turkish parliament has yet to decide on it.
Uyghurs fear that the treaty will lead to the extradition of Uyghur refugees and dissidents. They call on the Turkish Government not to sign the treaty.
Every day dozens of Uyghurs demonstrate against the treaty at the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul. Silently, they’re standing on the street, holding up photos of missing family members. Family members detained by China in reeducation camps, labour camps or in prison.
Medine Nazimi hasn‘t heard from her sister since she went on a trip to China:
“ This is my sister, I don’t know where she is, if she‘s alive,” says Medine Nazimi, holding up a picture with the text ‘where is my sister? ‘in English and Turkish. Others hold up pictures of brothers, parents, grandparents. They all tell stories of oppression, forced labour and re-education camps, which they call concentration camps.
Medine’s sister studied at a university in Istanbul. She was arrested four years ago when she went back to the Xinjiang region to help her sick mother. “We‘re not criminals. My sister speaks four languages, she doesn’t need a reeducation camp,” says Medine.
Coined in Uyghurs
This time the Uyghurs are making their protest not only to China, but also to the Turkish Government. News about the agreement between China and Turkey goes like a shock wave through the Uyghur community. It is clear to them that China is targeting the Uyghur community with this treaty. Many Uyghurs are in Turkey on a temporary residence permit.
“ If Turkey approves the treaty, I fear the worst,” says Mirzehmet Ilyasoglu, one of the organisers of the protest. Under such a treaty, Turkey must extradite Chinese passport holders who are suspected of criminal activities. “We‘ve known for a long time that China is already suspicious of us because we are Uyghurs.”
The owner of a small Uyghur bookstore in the Zeytinburnu district says the pressure on the Uyghurs in Turkey has grown lately. He regularly gets threatening calls, he says. “From people working for the Chinese intelligence services. They put pressure on me by naming my relatives who are still in China. They ask me to work for them.”
His store is full of books banned in China. Books about the history of the Uyghurs, books about Islam. That’s how he wants to keep Uyghur culture alive. “Almost all the writers standing here are in prison in China.”
He says that the Turkish authorities are also making things increasingly difficult for the Uyghurs. On December 30, four Turkish police officers entered his store. “They arrested my employee, a young boy who doesn‘t hurt a fly yet,” he says. “They said they had received a report about him and took him away. Now he’s in a deportation center. We don‘t know what will happen to him.”
Activists report that more often Uyghurs are being held in a deportation centre for a long time. Uyghurs would also have been deported to third countries, such as Tajikistan, after which they were transferred to China.
50,000 Uyghurs in Turkey
An estimated 50,000 Uyghurs live in Turkey. They are culturally related to the Turks, speak a Turkish language and have the same faith. Thousands of refugees went to Turkey and were initially welcomed with open arms.
But economic ties between China and Turkey have been strengthened in recent years. Turkey is facing an economic crisis and desperately needs Chinese investment. For example, China is trying to put pressure on Turkey, experts say.
In 2017, President Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping are already putting the extradition treaty on paper. The official aim was to act jointly against terrorism. During the same period, Chinese investments in Turkey increased.
While the Turkish Government has nothing to do with the extradition treaty, opposition parties seize the Uyghur dilemma with both hands. “It is not the Turkish people, but it is the Turkish government that is dropping the Uyghurs,” says Selcuk Ozdag of the Party for the Future, a party that has been split off from Erdogan’s AKP. “They are now silent, blind and deaf to all human rights violations in China in exchange for economic interests. We don‘t hear a word from Erdogan, who always presents himself as the leader of the Muslims.”
There are also allegations that China is now trying to put pressure on Turkey with coronavaccins. Turkey ordered 50 million doses of Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac, the first 3 million doses arearrived last week.
“ It is clear that China is abusing Turkey’s weaknesses. It is high time the government made it open,” said Ozdag.
It is not known when the Turkish Parliament is discussing the extradition treaty with China. Medine still hopes that the Turkish Government will not abandon the Uyghurs.
“ China has money. But justice is more important than Chinese money, right?”